Merry Christmas dear readers! It’s been some time since I last shared one of my book reviews and I’ve been so eager to share this one with you!! I’m finally taking a long overdue-much-needed-my-word-it-took-so-long-to-arrive break from work for the festive period. My feet are up, slippers afoot and the Christmas Tree is sparkling. Soon there might be gin. Who am I kidding..? There’s gin.
I had a book that had been getting me through these manic hectic months filled with huge work projects, hen dos in Ibiza, Weddings, you name it – it was read slowly, carefully and thoughtfully. That book is ‘Once Upon a River’ by Diane Setterfield. It’s a book that was purchased for my Birthday in May from my nearest and dearest (thank you!). I’d heard some wonderful things and really wanted to get myself into the story. I’d heard that Setterfield was a magnificent story teller (this is her third novel) and really wanted a story that would capture my heart.
So if you find yourself overwhelmed with Christmas money and/or gift vouchers in a couple of days time (I mean how DREADFUL would that be..;)) then please read my review below and consider adding this to one of your must buy lists. I’m so grateful that I have my copy!
ONCE UPON A RIVER, BY DIANE SETTERFIELD
A dark midwinter’s night.
The Swan, an ancient inn on the banks of the Thames.
The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger.
In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child.
It’s got you already, right?
First of all, let me tell you like anyone with a dress with pockets tells you that the dress has pockets, that in the first couple of pages is a MAP. I don’t know about you, but any book that contains a Map seems to do a couple of things in terms of my enjoyment of the book. First of all, I understand what is seemingly important; here – it is quickly obvious that it is the river, the Thames. Secondly, I see some important images; there’s a pig, a large Manor House, a bridge and a house boat. Thirdly, I understand the time period; it’s somewhere around the victorian era. So instantly, I know it’s a novel set a century or two ago, and that we’re going to have a story that revolves around life on the river. And something to do with a pig.
The story is set out into 3 parts, the first Part 1 Chapter 1 is titled ‘The Story begins’.. and we are first introduced to one of the most important characters in the story, which is actually a pub; The Swan at Radcot. It’s an ancient inn filled with locals who love to share tales and entertain each other with stories and ale. It’s a real local’s pub with some interesting characters and some hardworking folk, including the local landlady, her husband, daughters and her son Jonathan.
In the first chapter a man walks in, bruised, wet, large and bloody, carrying a dead child. The locals do their utmost to save her, yet fear she is long gone. They think of calling for the Doctor but instead call for the person who can actually help, and that’s Rita Sunday. Rita attends to the child and the man, and in the Chapter ‘The Miracle’, we are introduced (due to the turn of events) to the idea of ‘Quietly’, a ferryman between the living and dead who lives amongst the riverbed.
An elderly gentleman approached me whilst I was reading the novel in my favourite coffee shop and asked me what it was about. ‘Storytelling‘ I told him, to which he replied, ‘Isn’t all fiction storytelling?‘ and I responded to that with ‘All fiction may tell a story, but this story is about storytelling. It’s magical.. a story told in such a way that I feel like I’m sat around a campfire with a torch under my chin’.
So what makes the story so captivating and beautiful? Well firstly, its exciting. The locals are drunk entertainers, stories spiral out of control but most interestingly, there is mystery and magic. Secondly the story around the dead girl is pretty fascinating and whilst at first may seem magical and unworldly, is actually pretty scientific, medical and clever. The dead girl is the main focus of the tale; for there is many who wish to claim her as their daughter, from all walks of life with all very different reasons why. Thirdly, the characters in this book are absolutely brilliant.
There are too many characters to introduce to you one by one, but my absolute favourites are Rita Sunday (the feminist hasn’t-got-the-qualification-but-has-got-the-brain Doctor), and Henry Daunt, a photographer. They are both single, experts in their profession and rather lonely; but who happen to be able to bring their two talents together to half solve the mystery of the dead girl. I also really liked Robert Armstrong; a man with a sense of self, charisma and honour. He also appeared to carry a gift of being able to read the minds of animals, again adding to the magical, spiritual element, but also showing a character of great empathy and understanding.
The reason why I enjoyed these particular characters so much is that they were so well defined, their personalities so strong and also they were so important to the outcome of the tale. I honestly do not feel like I have read a book in such a long time that was so near perfect; in both story telling and character building. The plot weaved and winded, crashing back into itself, flowing backward and forth in exactly the way that a river does. The story was honestly exemplary of true story telling.
CAN’T PUT IT DOWN RATING: 5/5
I may have been too busy to read and review the last few months but every time I picked this up I struggled to put it down to do whatever it was I needed to do next!
It brought me back to my childhood days of being a member brownies and guides, huddled around a campfire in the middle of a wood somewhere, scaring each other half to death with entertaining stories of mystery, love and intrigue.
I was honestly rather saddened to put the book down and now have concerns that my next read won’t be as enjoyable as this one; yes dear readers, its one of those where you miss the book long after reading it. It looks beautiful on my shelf but no doubt when I get half the chance, I’ll definitely be reading it again!
So if really traditional, exciting story telling with some strong fascinating characters sounds like your bag, pick this book up when your next in a bookstore or surfing the web!
WHERE TO BUY:
I hope you enjoy the Christmas Holidays with your family and friends, taking some time to re-charge your batteries and read read read!! I’ll be spending mine staying indoors as much as possible, huddled in a blanket, reading, relaxing. Maybe a bit of hot yoga. But mainly, catching up on my reading, because boy have I missed it.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and an amazing New Year. See you in 2020!!!